Soak in the aura, piety of Pashupatinath

Soak in the aura, piety of Pashupatinath

The air around the Pashupatinath Temple is surcharged with a palpable aura of devotion and spirituality and one cannot help being swept away in its wake, write Sandy N Vijay

Pashupatinath Temple. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

The Pashupatinath temple is on your right,” said our guide as we drove from the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu towards our hotel. The fleeting glimpse of the brick red, sprawling campus of the famous temple was enough to send a surge of a strange electricity through our being. We knew we would be heading there soon. Pashupatinath Temple has a spiritual aura that draws millions of visitors to its fold and is a sacred pilgrimage centre for devotees of Shiva.

The origins of the temple can be traced back to the 4th century BC. It finds mention in the Shiva Purana as a temple that fulfils the wishes of devotees. Even the Skanda Purana has a mention of the Pashupatinath Temple. On being asked by Parvati about the important Shiva Kshetras of the world, Maha Deva himself mentions the names of 68 sacred places which include the temple of Pashupatinath in Nepal.

The Karnataka connect

It is evening. Hundreds of pigeons swoop down in a courtyard near the outer perimeter of the Pashupatinath Temple. Men, women, and children hurriedly make their way towards the sanctum sanctorum to catch a glimpse of the evening aarti to the Lord of all sentient beings, Pashupatinath. 

“You wait here. The Bhat priest will come out of this silver door after the aarti,” says a young priest who presides over a small temple of Ganesha in front of one of the four doors of the main Pashupatinath Temple. We take up our vigil near the Ganesha Temple and talk to the young priest who tells us about the temple and its rituals. He informs us that the Shivalinga can be worshipped only by four Bhat priests who are from the coastal region of Karnataka in India. There is a fifth Bhat priest who is in charge of another temple dedicated to Nagaraja known as Vasuki Temple in the Pashupatinath Temple complex.

“I was here, sitting inside this very temple when the earthquake happened,” the young priest tells us with a smile. “I felt it a minute before it happened,’’ he adds with another wide grin. Barring minor damages, Pashupatinath Temple emerged unscathed from the devastating earthquake with a magnitude of 7.9 that ripped through the heart of Nepal in 2015.

There is a hushed silence as we stand near the silver door. The evening aarti to the Lord is over and the crowds have thinned. A group of monkeys cluster all around us, feasting on fruits offered by devotees. Suddenly we hear a whistle being blown and the silver door swings open. The Bhat priest dressed in saffron briskly walks out, escorted by his guards from the Nepalese police. “We are from Bengaluru,” we say in Kannada folding our hands in respect in front of Shri Narayan Bhat who has just finished the last ritualistic worship of Lord Pashupatinath. He stops in his tracks, smiles benevolently and raises his right hand in blessing. “What do you want? he asks in Kannada, and when we tell him we want to know more about the tradition of Kannada priests in Pashupatinath, he tells us that we would need to meet the head priest who was currently not available in Kathmandu and directs us to the house of another of the Bhat priests.

There is no historical evidence to say when the practice of entrusting the worship of the sacred Shivalinga to priests from Karnataka originated. The tradition can, however, be traced to

Nandi at Pashupatinath

more than 300 years ago. It is, however, believed that the practice traces its origins to the Advaita philosophy of Adi Shankaracharya and his visit has no documentary evidence. It is believed that in the middle of the 15th century, the then king of Nepal Yaksha Malla, asked the Bhatta Brahmin priests from Karnataka to take over the rituals of the temple. He wanted the deity to be worshipped according to Sattvic and Vedic traditions as opposed to the Vamachara practices with Tantric origins that were prevalent then.

The unique feature of Pashupatinath Temple is that the main deity can be touched only by a set of four priests. These priests are selected from the Dakshinamaya Sri Sharada Peetham, Sringeri. The priests are Smarta Brahmins and well versed in Rig Vedic traditions, Pashupata Yoga, said to have been Shiva’s creation, Shiva Agamas, and Samaveda. The current head priest hails from Udupi, while Shri Narayan Bhat is from Bhatkal. Another of the priests Shri Ram Bhat hails from Mangaluru while Shri Girish Bhat is from Sirsi. The fifth priest who looks after the worship at the Vasuki Temple, Shri Raghavendra Bhat, also hails from Karnataka.


The sprawling precincts of the Pashupatinath Temple are one of the sites of the heritage monument groups of the Kathmandu valley. The temple complex stretches along the banks of river Baghmati and consists of the main temple and more than 500 other smaller temples, open pavilions, ashrams, and living quarters. The complex sprawls over an area of about 1.58 acres. The main temple is built in the Pagoda style with two tiers and has gilded roofs that glitter in the sunlight. A golden spire known as Gajur rises up into the sky from the centre of the roof. Four doors in the cardinal directions open to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Three of the doors are silver plated while one is plated with gold.


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